Luke O'Neill on COVID-19 in 2022: 'Even better vaccines' are on the way

Luke O'Neill says some of the new COVID-19 vaccines could be inhaled or given via patch.
Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

12.03 25 Nov 2021

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Luke O'Neill on COVID-19 in 2022: 'Even better vaccines' are on the way

Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

12.03 25 Nov 2021

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Professor Luke O'Neill says we're set to see a "massive glut" of COVID-19 vaccines in the third year of the pandemic.

That includes new technologies such as vaccines that can be inhaled or administered via a patch, as well as boosters of existing vaccines becoming more widespread.

The leading immunologist was speaking as the world prepares to enter the third year of the COVID-19 era.


The latest report suggests the first or so-called 'index' case of the pandemic originated in the Wuhan live-animal market in December 2019.

On The Pat Kenny Show, Professor O'Neill - Professor of Biochemistry at Trinity College - said few would have thought we'd still be dealing with a global pandemic two years after those initial reports of a new illness from Wuhan.

Luke O'Neill on COVID-19 in 2022: 'Even better vaccines' are on the way

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However, he said immunologists and virologists are now starting to ask what lies ahead in 2022.

He observed: “The boosters will be there and widespread. It will be a three-shot vaccine, that’s the prediction for definite… and the hope is that third shot will give over a year’s protection.

“The debate will move now to developing countries more and more - [although] we’ve already had that in the last few months. Can we get that vaccine into developing countries? That’s really important.

“One projection… the Gates Foundation is saying developed countries will be getting back to almost normality in 2022, with incomes 90% of what they were. In developing countries, the incomes will only go to a third of what they were.

"The focus will shift more and more on making sure vaccine supply is not an issue for developing countries."

Following Austria's announcement that they're making vaccines compulsory, Professor O'Neill said the debate around 'forcing vaccines' on people will likely grow in 2022.

However, he pointed to the WHO's Mike Ryan warning against mandatory vaccines - and noted there are encouraging signs in Europe that many people who were vaccine-hesitant are now choosing to get a vaccine.

On top of that, Professor O'Neill said there's set to be a "huge amount" of new and existing vaccines available in 2022.

He explained: "They’re talking about a massive glut of vaccines in the middle of 2022, in terms of supply - that’s the ones we have.

“In the meantime, they’re making new ones. There’s one by a company called Valneva… that could be a pan-coronavirus vaccine, that could treat any variant which would be tremendous. They’re also making multivalent vaccines, which would have combinations of coronaviruses.

“They’re going to add the flu vaccine into the coronavirus vaccine, which is a useful thing.”

Scientists are also working on vaccines that can be administered via a patch or inhalation.

Professor O'Neill observed: “The inhaled ones may stop the virus in your nose as well as in your lungs - that’ll stop transmission.

“We’re getting to Vaccine [2.0]: these new vaccines will be even better. They’re also able to freeze-dry the vaccine now - that means you can make it into a powder, and not have to worry about ultra-cold temperatures.”

Antiviral pills

Meanwhile, regulators are also looking at whether to approve the antiviral COVID-19 pills which have shown promising results in trials.

Professor O'Neill said they're also looking at making sure the virus doesn't become resistant to these new treatments.

He said: “If you use two punches against the virus, it can’t dodge both punches. So they’re talking about combining Merck and Pfizer's [pills].

“There’s also a view these are so powerful the virus won’t be able to dodge them… so you may not need to combine them. But I know Merck and Pfizer and more than likely in deep discussions about this.”

It's also now predicted COVID-19 will become endemic in developed countries in mid to late 2022 - meaning the virus is "burning away" at a low and manageable level.

Professor O'Neill said there are some predictions the UK could get to that point earlier than Ireland as they reopened earlier, but we won't know for sure for some time yet.

While getting vaccines to developing countries remains a major priority, Professor O'Neill said the pandemic doesn't appear to have hit parts of Africa as badly as initially feared.

He said scientists believe that could be down to a younger population and more outdoor activity, while common parasitic diseases in Africa could give some "cross-protection".

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